Mata Hari 60% – Review

Although this absinthe is not in ready commercial distribution in Australia, there is mail order and notable tourist-based personal import, to the degree that the fine folk at the Fischer Schnappsmuseum in Vienna felt it necessary to produce a template customs declaration for Australia to verify that it contained less than the legal 10mg/kg of thujone.

I never got the chance to use this customs declaration when I picked up a bottle in Austria, because those *!@#@-wits at Heathrow Airport and British Airways decided to lose my bags for two weeks enroute back to Australia (despite multiple assurances that the luggage would be on board after missing a connection…look- don’t get me started or I’ll rave on about the pure incompetence of BA…needless to say I am among the thousands who will now refuse to go through that hell hole of a transport hub or travel on that airline).

Anyway, my bags were eventually returned with the absinthe, so fortunately I can bring you my particular thoughts on this somewhat unusual product…

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This Austrian absinthe is 60% alc/vol, comes in a narrow 500 mL bottle, and is adorned with an art nouveau image of courtesan, exotic dancer and spy, Mata hari over an ankh, holding two glasses of absinthe. The closure is a tamper evident screw cap, and open bottle neck with no restricted flow insert.

The colour of the absinthe is a bright luminescent “candy apple” green, which of course is artificial colouration. Because this is a commercial retail product, natural chlorophyll in a clear bottle would be subject to rapid discolouration if displayed for long periods on a shelf. Thus the presentation is based around achieving a particular price point, and would not be achieved with tinted bottles and different closures.

The most immediate characteristic of the absinthe is the complete absence of anise, and instead the characteristic of fresh mint, more a gentle spearmint than a jarring peppermint. Behind this sits some other tasty grassy and herbaceous tones.

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The product is slow to louche, but when it does it seems to separate very quickly between an emulsion and the undiluted layer that floats on top, that is gently eaten away by the amorphous green creature in the depths of the glass, the metamorphosis quite visible to the eye. The louche itself is very thick, pulling back to a Granny Smith Apple green that illuminates the glass – the thickness of the louche is such that it obscures the spoon, afternoon sunlight barely penetrating my Pontarlier glass. As anise is commonly the constituent that is the protagonist for louching, its absence in this product presents a curious culinary mystery as to exactly what is producing the effect to the strength we observe.

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The nose retains its minty and herb aroma, which is quite localised in the glass and does not result in a room filling bouquet. It is an interesting benchmark however, that it reveals how anise can sometimes mask the detection of other herbal aromas, and the importance of striking the right balance.

The flavour relates directly to the aroma, minty sweet to sip, a herbaceous mouth taste ending with a lingering artemisial bitterness on the back of the tongue. Interestingly, what I also notice is what is absent – the characteristic earthy mineral note I usually find in many other products. The flavour is relatively balanced however, the mouth-feel is smooth with consistency of skim-milk, a slight but transient creaminess.

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The louche holds over time, without any dissipation. However the flavours don’t appear to change or develop any further complexity as the liquid warms. I also begin to notice the mint flavour has something of an accumulative effect in the mouth, which may not be desirable over a number of glasses unless taken as a prelude to a nuit d├ęcadente if you find yourself short on breath mints.

But it is overall a drinkable absinthe – as opposed to an absinthe I would savour slowly.

It is a possibly gateway for those with an aversion to aniseed, which does present an impediment for many who would like to try absinthe. Otherwise it may add a nice touch to certain absinthe cocktails (provided you like them minty), being smoother and higher quality than many low end absinthes. And this may be its raison d’etre. There may be hesitation in using a premium absinthe in a cocktail where you may lose some of its unique characteristics, but just the same – a bad absinthe in a cocktail is just a bad absinthe cocktail. This product may also allow a degree of tasting on its own right, as well as being a good mixer -although it is a departure from a standard absinthe flavour experience.

Given the 1881 tag on the bottle, some might dispute whether such a product is consistent with a late 19th century product? Having seen first hand the handwritten vintage recipes in the family vault, I can confirm that the Fischers do have a range of original proprietary recipes to work from, and as such the modern presentation should be seen as “modern drapes” around fine Palladian windows. What we are seeing here is a the result of a commercial decision, and commercial realities for manufacturers whose core business is not absinthe.

One would hope though that consumer demand for premium products will permit such manufacturers who are sitting on these family traditions to find the commercial justification to produce more of these products in period style and presentation, such as Fischer’s Montmartre.

Jonathan Dec 16th 2007 06:00 pm Absinthe brands,Absinthe Reviews,Distilleries,Reviews No Comments yet Trackback URI

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